U.S. pregnancies cost most worldwide, but don't get best care

By David Self Newlin | Posted - Jul 1st, 2013 @ 11:57am

SALT LAKE CITY — The birth of a child is not only an important life event that most everyone will experience — it is also incredibly expensive, more so in the United States than in any other place in the world.

However, according to an analysis commissioned by the New York Times, that exorbitant cost does not translate into better care for American mothers.

"And though maternity care costs far less in other developed countries than it does in the United States, studies show that their citizens do not have less access to care or to high-tech care during pregnancy than Americans," wrote Times reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal.

The average amount actually paid for a normal vaginal birth in the U.S. is nearly $10,000. A Cesarean adds on another $5,000 or so. The average charges for childbirth and newborn care can range from $30,000 to $50,000, depending on the kind of deliver and potential complications, according to a study from Truven.

For all that money being paid, however, the care available in countries like Britain, where a conventional delivery cost only $2,600, were just as good or even better, according to the Times. Mothers in France often remained in the hospital for a week after delivery, compared to two days for most American women.

Several doctors and economists told the Times the problem is the American system of billing, where every single procedure, no matter how simple or standard, shows up on an itemized bill, rather than being rolled into a single flat rate for the entire pregnancy and birth like most developed countries.


In Denmark, for example, doctors are paid a single flat rate for pregnancy and childbirth. But despite that, the choices available to the mother in her care are very open.

"There are no bills, and a hospital doesn't get paid for doing specific things," Charlotte Overgaard, an assistant professor of public health at Aalborg University, told the Times. "If a woman wants acupuncture, an epidural or birth in water, that's what she'll get."

It's not only that the cost of having a child is high, but also that the cost is rapidly skyrocketing in the U.S. The amount insurers paid for normal childbirths rose 49 percent from 2004 to 2010, according to a Truven study. They also reported that since 1996, the charges for a delivery have roughly tripled.

"It's not primarily that we get a different bundle of services when we have a baby," Gerard Anderson, a John Hopkins economist, told the Times. "It's that we pay individually for each service and pay more for the services we receive."

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